Writer’s Life

What I Did This Summer and Why I’m Not Still Doing It

I guess summer is almost over. I see students moving back in, and the Most Wonderful Time of the Year – school supply shopping time – is in full swing at all the finest retailers. I’m not sure where it all went, really; it seemed to go so quickly. Was it something that we said? (If you catch that reference, leave me a comment!)

I went on my first writer’s retreat this summer, up at The Porches. The Porches is basically Heaven for Writers. No, it really is. You don’t have to die or anything to get there, but that’s really the only difference.

While I was on retreat, after a nice early breakfast with my writer comrades, I spent all morning writing. At lunchtime, I headed downstairs for a quick bite to eat, which I hauled back up to my computer so I could write all afternoon. By the time we got to dinner, I’d written thousands of words. Over a single weekend, I wrote nearly ten thousand words. I didn’t have to have anything on for background noise. I didn’t need to be around people. All those conditions I usually set for myself just didn’t apply. The words came out smoothly and easily anyway, all day long.

At one point, probably right after lunch on Saturday, I thought, “You know, I could do this at home. All I have to do is turn everything off, open the door to the balcony, and let it flow. I mean, what does Trudy (I’m talking about the owner of The Porches, Trudy Hale) have that I don’t have?”

What does Trudy have? How about this?

Early Morning at The Porches

She has this, too.

More Morning at The Porches

She also has this. This is where the words were flowing for me.

The Jade Room

Okay. It’s been almost a month, and that’s still a little depressing. Let’s ask another question: What do I have that I didn’t have to deal with at The Porches?

I’ve got an unstable day job.

I’ve got cats in recovery from illness.

I’ve got the outside world, with all the drama and bills and responsibilities I could reschedule in favor of a retreat.

That’s depressing, too. What am I getting at?

I think my point is that I should be content with the glacial pace of my writing, now that I’m at home. I don’t have what Trudy has, after all, and I’m making the best of what I do have. But what matters most of all is that I’m adding to those ten thousand words, albeit very slowly. I feel new story ideas coming to life every day. I’m surrounded by little slips of notebook paper with little bits of dialogue written on them.

Someday I’ll bring the retreat home. In the meantime, I’m saving up for the next trip and slowly but surely getting the words into the computer.

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Alexa Day Gets Medieval … Right After She Gets Victorian

Last week, I showed you a picture of the Big Bag of Historical Romances that I won at a drawing at the Virginia Festival of the Book. I arranged them in chronological order – because I am a dork like that, my friends – and now they’re stacked next to my TV, with Patricia Phillips on the top, waiting to take me to Wales in 1401. All I have to do is get out of Victorian England first.

Six weeks ago, none of this was my thing.

My mom gave me a copy of Kathleen Woodiwiss’s The Flame and the Flower a few Christmases ago, but that was mostly because she felt The Time Had Come To Give This Heirloom To Her Daughter. Then I won another Woodiwiss at a Romanticon giveaway – Joey W. Hill said it was on her keeper shelf, and I won it at a giveaway. Still, I only had a couple of historicals on my own shelves. I didn’t think I had much in common with the heroines, and when black characters did appear, they occupied the periphery of the story, which infuriates me, as you know.

But then – Festival magic!

To help out with the Virginia Romance Writers social media push in advance of the Festival, I got cozy with some historical fiction. I’d seen Deanna Raybourn at a VRW presentation some time ago, and so I tried the first of her Lady Julia Grey series, Silent in the Grave, in preparation for her Festival panel. She had me at the first page – she gets a lot of people like that – but what kept me going was the discovery that Lady Julia and I have a lot in common after all.

We both have large families, often charitably described as eccentric and unpredictable, who will go right to the wall for each other. We both enjoy our independence, although I have an easier time asserting mine than she does. Neither of us could have said no to the raven.

And so once I felt comfortable with Lady Julia, I could get comfortable within her story.

Tasha Alexander’s And Only to Deceive took me on a similar journey. The heroine reminded me of my childhood study of Latin and Greek classics, and from there, it was easy to get into the rest of the story.

Of course, having a rich “rest of the story” helps. Both Raybourn and Alexander present historical mysteries, and the romances that lie in the background are complicated. Alexander’s heroine never really got to know her husband. Raybourn’s didn’t know hers as well as she thought. Both situations make for tempting reads, against any backdrop.

Could it be that I was open to historical romances? Had I written off those heroines of the past too quickly? Was I missing out on other hot heroes and exotic settings?

I’d only started to explore these questions when I won the bag of books. Feels like a sign, right?

So here’s the reading list for my hot history course.

  • The Constant Flame, Patricia Phillips
  • The Laird of Stonehaven, Connie Mason
  • The Conquest, Jude Deveraux
  • Catriona, Jeanette Baker
  • Believe, Victoria Alexander
  • Defy the Storm, Kate O’Donnell
  • A Season Beyond a Kiss, Kathleen E. Woodiwiss (it’s a sequel to The Flame and the Flower, so that comes first)
  • Merely the Groom, Rebecca Hagan Lee
  • Kiss Me Annabel, Eloisa James
  • The Italian, Elaine Coffman
  • Every Wish Fulfilled, Samantha James
  • The Glass Slipper, Linda O. Johnston – a contemporary disguised as a historical

I’ll keep you all posted as to my progress (including how the hell I plan to write a book with all this reading). This might be the only vacation I get to take this year, but I’ll send lots of postcards!

The Next, Next Big Thing: Taking the Hop to Jamaica

Last week, I kind of left you all high and dry with no blog post. I do feel bad about that. Things have just been out of control in real life lately. Wildly out of control. Sooner or later, I knew some innocent person would end up getting punished for it, and lo and behold, it turned out to be you.

Today, a whole day early, I’m going to make it up to you. My friend, author Denise Golinowski, tapped me last week for The Next Big Thing blog hop. Even though I didn’t thank her for it. See how patient everyone’s been with me? Anyway, the last time I did the hop, I gave you a little ten-question peek at my new release, ILLICIT IMPULSE. Today, I’m giving you a look at my next book.

  1. What’s the working title of your book? First question, and I’m stumped already. My first title for it was Fourth and Forever, but that was when the hero was a football player. I’ve since learned that he used to play baseball, so the title won’t work, even though I love it. Now I’m looking at something baseball-themed, something that still gets the idea across, so today’s title is Cleanup Man. Next week, it might be something else altogether.
  2. Where did the idea for the book come from? I can’t talk about this too much (aren’t you glad I’m doing this?) because the idea for this book came from my first book, and I’m pretty sure you haven’t all read the first book yet. Let me give you a fighting chance to do that. You don’t need to have read ILLICIT IMPULSE to enjoy this book, but if you’re planning to read ILLICIT IMPULSE, you’ll be happier if I keep some of these details to myself.
  3. What genre is your book in? It’s an interracial erotic romance.
  4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition? I always have trouble with this. The two of them just look like the two of them, if you know what I mean. So I usually answer this question with Google. This time I started with “blond actors under 40.” Try that for a laugh and let me know how many blond actors you get. Then I ran across Chris Hemsworth. If he were to shave, he’d look like my hero. My heroine looks like Sanaa Lathan.
  5. What is the one-sentence synopsis for your book? A lifetime hasn’t been long enough for him to tell her he wants her – can he convince her with one week in paradise?
  6. Is your book self-published, published by an independent publisher, or represented by an agency? My plan is to send it to Ellora’s Cave, once it’s finished, since that’s where the first book is.
  7. How long did it take you to finish the first draft of your manuscript? I’m still working on it. I think that’s why real life is coming after me with both hands. This is what happened the last time.
  8. What other books in your genre would you compare this story to? You know, I have trouble with this question, too; I try not to read hard in my genre while I’m writing. These days I’m reading mostly historical fiction after being converted by Deanna Raybourn, Tasha Alexander, and a bag full of free historical romances I won at the Virginia Festival of the Book. Here’s a little book pron. No, no, I insist; it’s the least I can do. Behold, the contents of my giveaway bag!book giveaway
  9. Who or what inspired you to write this book? The artsy answer to this question is that the hero wouldn’t leave me alone. And he wouldn’t, that’s the sort of guy he is. If you like something a little less woo-woo, my editor’s first question after I accepted the contract for the first book was, “Did you have a second book planned? Because if not, we’re going to have to look at this ending.” I didn’t think I’d ever finish the first book, so altering the ending – and potentially much of the rest of the story – was too much to bear. Far easier to write another book. Yeah, I like the artsy answer better, too.
  10. What else about the book might pique your reader’s interest? I take the hero and heroine to Jamaica for much of the story. My mother was born in Jamaica, and I’ve traveled there often to see my family. My Jamaica is local and authentic – I’ve never been to one of those all-inclusive resorts – and I hope my book does it justice.

That’s it, America! True to form, I’ve been too big a slack-ass to tap anyone else for this blog hop. Instead I’m going to use the space to thank my friend and genius critique partner Denise Golinowski. She bears so much of my slack-assitude with grace. I don’t even know how to thank her for all that.

Happy Hour, Afternoon Delight, and an Excerpt

My first novel, ILLICIT IMPULSE, made its debut yesterday at Ellora’s Cave. I didn’t have to work yesterday – yay, snow day! – so I got to sit here like a crazy person and watch the number of likes and tweets growing on my book page. Last night, I went for a walk in the snow to join some friends for a celebratory happy hour. We didn’t spend a lot of time talking about the book, and after all the time I’ve spent putting it together, I was only a little ashamed to feel relief about that.

When we did get to talking about it, I found I enjoyed the slight distance my friends allowed me to take from the story. One of my friends, new to the whole e-book thing, was looking for download and format advice. Others were curious about the next book. I found myself looking at this in a new way. After all the time hammering down the fine details, checking for flow, repetition, awkwardness, and what-have-you, all I really wanted was for them to find whatever they were looking for in a good book.

I hoped they would identify with the characters.

I hoped the action would pull them through the pages late at night.

And I hoped they would think the sex was hot.

I hope something similar for you. I hope you’ll decide to pick up ILLICIT IMPULSE. Once you start it, I hope you’ll find whatever makes a book good.

I also hope you’ll read this tiny pinch of it. This post is going up a little late in the day to call it a nooner, but maybe it counts as an afternoon delight? In any case, enjoy!

Grace met John’s gaze. “Tell me what you need me to do.”

His skin heated again. What was wrong with him?

“I need you…to take the pills…”

She lifted a fine eyebrow. “And?”

“And then have sex…”

She grinned then, her teeth very white against the burgundy of her lipstick. “With Tal. Right?”

He shrugged. That was, of course, who he’d had in mind. But what he needed already defied the fundamental tenets of scientific research. He definitely wasn’t going to go further out of bounds by telling her who to have sex with.

Grace chuckled, a throaty sound that might have been genuine amusement or something a bit less pleasant. “John, I hope you’re not thinking I’ll take these and then my eyes will be opened and I’ll see Tal doesn’t want to be in a relationship.” She put the pills back on the table next to her glass. “I mean, I know you have some kind of issue with him.”

“Issue” didn’t begin to cover it. Tal only saw her at his place, and only at night. After two years, she’d never mentioned meeting his family or going away for the weekend or celebrating an anniversary. Never mentioned flowers or Christmas gifts. So far as John knew, Tal never even took her to dinner. As happy as Grace said she was, John knew she deserved more than what she had.

“Grace, I’m not trying to pull anything. I need someone who’s not in a relationship. I need someone who’s willing to tell me everything. I even need Tal.” He hated the way that felt in his mouth. “Look, I don’t want you to get hurt. That’s no secret. And if these pills make you see things a little differently, then so much the better. But I really just need your help.”

“Good. Because I know Tal doesn’t want a girlfriend. So we’re all on the same page.”

John nodded, lifting both hands in surrender. “Right. I get it.”

“Okay.” Grace pursed her full lips. “If I do this, what would happen after the sex?”

John swallowed, hoping she didn’t sense the sudden rush of discomfort that seemed so painfully obvious to him. “Then you report back.” He cleared his throat. “To me.”

A mischievous giggle bubbled out of her. “You want me to have sex with Tal and then come back and tell you about it.” Coming from her mouth, the idea sounded ridiculous. “I presume you would need this to happen more than once.”

“Well…there are eight pills in a pack.”

Grace picked up the blister pack again and stared at it in silence. As John scrambled to scrape up the last of his persuasive powers, she said, “Deal.”

The tension that had been crushing him released its grip. She’d do it. “Oh, Grace. I owe you big time.”

She tucked the pills into her purse and laughed. “I have a feeling the pleasure’s going to be all mine. Just don’t be too disappointed if nothing changes between me and Tal,” she said. “And don’t be too shocked when you hear about what we do together.”

Diversity’s Never Looked Quite Like This

I’ve always written interracial romances featuring a black heroine. I’m like a lot of romance writers, in that I wanted to read and write about a heroine I could identify with. For years, I avoided reading romance altogether because I didn’t feel represented there. I might have stayed away from romance if it hadn’t been for law school. One of Mom’s friends sent me a couple of romances in a care package. I was so desperate to read about human beings and just enjoy the story, without the pressure of facing The Paper Chase the next day. I finished the first one very quickly and had to slow down and savor the others.

I still didn’t feel represented. But I was interested in what romance had to offer.

When I started reading romance, it looked like black women appeared in only two capacities – as the Sassy Black Friend, helping the heroine get the guy, or as the “exotic Creole” character. I was never clear on whether the Creole character was actually black. She always had dark hair and dark skin, but I always wondered why the author didn’t just say she was black, if she was in fact black.

I wanted to see – and, okay, maybe to be – a black heroine at center stage of her own romance novel. It wasn’t enough to help someone else get the guy and then be relegated to the end of a series (if she was lucky) with the only other black character in the books. I didn’t want to have to guess whether the heroine was black.

And that’s when I started thinking about writing romances. I had always written stories and I’d always wanted to write for publication. I just didn’t think I’d do it with romance. After all, I didn’t see anyone else publishing interracial romances, although I know now that there were a handful of them out there, scarce as hens’ teeth.

Then Sandra Kitt changed everything. The Color of Love is the romance novel I needed to see. The heroine is definitely black – she’s not olive-skinned or Creole – and she is definitely center stage. She and the hero, who is white, overcome the obstacles separating them (race-related and otherwise) to arrive at the end of the book with a declaration of love and a marriage proposal. I’d never read anything quite like it.

The Color of Love came out in 1995, so it was around when I got to law school. I just didn’t know about it. Once I found it, though, the game changed again. If she’d been published with an interracial romance (and Sandra Kitt has more than one such story out there), then I could do it, if I worked at it hard enough.

When my first novel, Illicit Impulse, comes out in three weeks, it will enter a very different world. I never thought I’d see a world with so many interracial relationships in books, television and movies. Interracial romances have long since made a place for themselves in electronic publishing, but TV and movies seem to be seeing the light, too. Finally.

I was the nut who stood up and cheered when Uhura kissed Spock in Star Trek. (Go easy on me. I’d been waiting YEARS for that.) I’m happy to see James Bond continuing a 40-year tradition of getting his swirl on. I was almost delirious with joy when ABC had two (three if we consider Grey’s Anatomy) well-established interracial relationships in prime time scripted television, although I miss 666 Park Avenue dearly now. Better still, television executives aren’t playing up the fact that their characters are falling in love across racial lines. These are just characters with their own needs and wants and dreams and problems. They just happen to be of different colors, and that’s the sort of romance I love the most.

I couldn’t be more excited to enter this field now, when the market exposure is growing. I’m part of a steadily growing audience, composed of people seeing these relationships for the first time and people who are saying “about damn time.” The sky is the limit now. I already know there are more interracial relationships on TV than I can keep track of. I claim the next book as my excuse, but I hope I can keep up with developments.

In the meantime, I need to make plans to see Skyfall.

An Exotic Dance Christmas, or Giving, Receiving, and Taking It All Off

Ready for a Christmas secret?

Everyone’s heard that it’s better to give than to receive. A lot of us have heard it from someone who wanted something. That’s not the secret.

The secret is that giving and receiving are holding hands. Don’t tell anyone. The whole world doesn’t need to know that when you make yourself available – when you give of your time, your spirit, whatever – you put yourself in line to receive some stuff.

Let me tell you a heartwarming Christmas story to illustrate this point.

‘Twas ten days before Christmas when I went to the local strip club to see the male revue. I was supposed to go with friends, but … well, of my circle of friends, I am the most likely to assign top priority to a trip to see male dancers. So I made my way alone to the club, whistling Christmas carols with a fistful of singles in the pockets of my jeans. Talk about your holiday cheer, right?

I figured the upper room that was home to the male revue would be crowded with other women ready to celebrate the male form. Kind of surprising, then, to find the place empty.

Seriously. Completely empty. This was where the cycle of giving and receiving started.

I figured that whatever happened at this point was going to be interesting. Certainly more interesting than whatever else I might have planned, which was probably reruns or something like that. At the very least, I’d get a good story for my friends. I made myself available to receive whatever opportunity presented itself in that empty upstairs room.

I walked all the way around the room, trying to figure out where the best seat actually was. Here, equidistant from the pole and the bar? Here, within reach of the stage? Decisions, decisions. I was about to try out the spot near the stage when one of my hosts emerged from behind a door near the curtain. He wasn’t much taller than I am, but I could tell he had a nice build underneath the track jacket he wore. He stopped short when he saw me, the way any good host would if he saw a guest unattended in his sitting room.

“Oh,” he said. He hurried over to the corner of the room to turn on some music. “Didn’t know anyone was here.”

“It’s okay,” I said. “I’m just getting here.”

He offered me a drink and then hustled out to get the bartender. Within just a few minutes, I was sitting in my own personal strip club, with my own personal bartender (himself a former dancer). While I’m hanging out, enjoying the view and looking forward to having the room all to myself, another of the dancers comes from the magical doorway near the curtain. I grinned at him and waved. He gave me a delighted smile, as if I were a good friend, and came over to join us at the bar.

As it happened, this was his very first night on the job. I asked if he was nervous.

“Nah,” he said. “Maybe a little. That’s normal, right?”

Baby Dancer was very young. He was lean but muscular, in a T-shirt that glowed under the black light. He seemed to have an awful lot of tattoos for someone who made money with his shirt off, but that was more of a curiosity to me than anything else.

“Totally normal. I’d be more worried if you weren’t nervous.”

I told Baby Dancer that I’m a dance instructor, and we were discussing the benefits of nervousness when still another dancer came through the doorway. This one was tall and very powerful looking, and wherever he goes, people likely presume he either is or could be a stripper. When he came over to the three of us at the bar, he looked me right in the eye, and for the first time, I felt as if I was being evaluated.

I evaluated him right back. Not bad at all. This has turned out to be an excellent evening already, and no one was even dancing yet. Baby Dancer explained that the man sizing me up was his mentor.

“This is his first time,” said the Mentor. The smile hid the very slight protective edge to his voice. I grinned back at him. I really was just happy to be here, literally surrounded by strippers, receptive to whatever happened next, but I thought it was cute that this hot, imposing person apparently believed I was going to do something to his protégé.

“That’s what I hear. He says he’s nervous,” I said.

The Mentor glanced over at Baby Dancer. Evidently he was not supposed to disclose that he was not completely in control of the room.

“Some first night, huh?” said Baby Dancer, and I was reminded that I was the only woman in the room, which was maybe not as good for them as it was for me.

“I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe it’s good. Sometimes it’s better to try out new technique for a smaller crowd than take chances with a full room.”

I had the Mentor’s attention again. “That’s a good idea,” he said. “Do you want to be a guinea pig?”

I promise I’m not making this up. This is the sort of thing that can happen when you’re open to offering what you can and receiving whatever awesome surprises come your way.

“Sure,” I said. “Happy to help.”

Remember how I was looking for the best seat a little while ago? The Mentor pulled a chair out toward the center of the room, right in front of the pole. That, neighbors, was the best seat in the house.

“See, this is good,” said the Mentor, as the two of us watched Baby Dancer work that pole. “Usually, we just have the empty chair to practice with. Tough to demonstrate lap dances with no one in the chair.”

“I will sit right here in this chair,” I said, “for as long as you need me to do that.” I really meant that, too. I was just happy to have the opportunity to be of service.

That’s really how I ended up in the best seat in the house, with an experienced dancer, a former dancer and a new dancer, demonstrating lap dance techniques on me for … gosh, how long was it? I think I became a little overstimulated at some point and lost track of time, right around the lesson about whispering in my ear. I got to that magical place (in the chair, get your minds out of the gutter) by expecting nothing, offering something, and being open to everything.

A month ago, when I was in this mindset, I ran across a group of firefighters hanging out on the sidewalk, all as friendly as they were handsome. Around Thanksgiving – again, while I was in this state of mind – the Charlotte airport was crowded with good-looking fellows. If this is woo-woo, it’s my kind of woo-woo. Giving and receiving and receiving and giving – it’s all mixed up in a wonderful, wonderful circle made of male strippers.

Who knows what will follow that?

Actually, I do kind of know. Four days after this, I sold my first book, ILLICIT IMPULSE, to Ellora’s Cave. That’s pretty much the best thing I could ask for right now. So what comes after that?

I’m certainly open to finding out.

A HotList of Gratitude

Happy Thanksgiving! As you’re reading this, I’m hanging out with my family. I’ve done a lot of thinking this year about gratitude and what I’m grateful for, but I know you’re wanting to hang out with your families as well. Or maybe you’re hanging out by yourself. I did that for years, and I do not feel like any less a member of my family for having done that.

Anyway.

These are five things I’m grateful for today.

  1. I’m grateful for my family. They take a lot of BS from me, poor guys. But no one’s ever made me laugh harder than my family. No one’s had my back like my family. No one can make just hanging out on the couch a joy like my family. And no matter how crazy things get, I would never trade my family for anyone else’s. And things get pretty crazy. Just so you know.
  2. I’m grateful for my cats. I’m kind of cheating here. My cats are part of my family. I’ve got three, with their own little quirks and personalities. One of them is a prissy little Southern lady. One of them is an opinionated little bad girl. The third used to live in the parking lot of my old apartment complex, until she decided to live with me. Adopting an animal is a pretty powerful emotional experience, but there’s nothing quite like having an animal choose you. I’m so grateful for each of them and their silly behavior and all their little sounds.
  3. I’m grateful for my day job. I talk smack about the day job all the time, but I really am grateful for it. At the outset, it is not Job From Hell, which was going to destroy me if things hadn’t ended so badly. The new day job keeps the lights on and food in everyone’s bowl until the writing can take over for it. Then the day job gives me the time to allow the writing to start taking over. I can’t ask for more than that.
  4. I’m grateful for my senses. Not long ago, I was in a state of ecstasy over something I was eating, and it occurred to me that I have never specifically been grateful for the fact that all my senses function well. As an erotica writer, I’m constantly have to feed and test my senses, looking for new scents and tastes and sights and sounds – and then looking for ways to describe them. But it’s not just for work – I love the way things taste. I love staring at things of beauty – the hot, shirtless men; muscle cars; the clean lines of paintings and buildings; the amazing mélange of colors that come together for sunrise and sunset. I love music from Aerosmith to Mozart, and the louder the better, and I can’t imagine what smells better than my favorite vanilla-scented soap, unless it’s coq au vin or mint chocolates or whatever makes the Cavemen smell so spectacular. And let’s not even get into my sense of touch. 😉 So if I haven’t said so before, I’m committed now to being grateful every day for my senses.
  5. I’m grateful for the writing. I was captured by a story idea while I was at Romanticon (and when am I going to stop talking about that? How about around next Romanticon?), and I was talking to my mom about it. I spend so much time around writers that I hadn’t imagined for a long time that not everyone is suddenly struck by story ideas in the middle of something else. I told another good friend of mine that when I was a little girl, I thought I couldn’t decide what I wanted to be. I thought I wanted to be everything – and then later, like in law school, I realized that I was actually making up stories about what someone in those various jobs might do. If one week, I thought I wanted to be a doctor, my imagination seized that idea and put together an Emergency 51 style plot line with a doctor that looked me, driving that ambulance with my best friend and partner to rescue people before their wrecked cars exploded. Another week, I thought I wanted to be an astronaut, and my imagination turned that into a day-to-day job on a space station, befriending offworlders and having adventures. I wanted to make up all those stories. It just took me years to figure that out. I’m grateful to have it all figured out now.

Right now, I’m probably grateful for a good book and a nap. How about you?

Cocktailery: Drinking and Writing and Writing and Drinking

Hemingway (supposedly) urged us to “write drunk [and] edit sober.”

I don’t work while I’m drunk. Being drunk tends to make me talkative, flirtatious, and sleepy, in that order. But I do enjoy a little something to help me shake off the so-called real world before I get set up with the characters.

It’s hard to choose the right libation sometimes. For me, the key is to find a drink large enough that I can sip at it without frequent refills but not potent enough to make me drunk if I have more than one. Then there’s the matter of food. I may not always drink while I’m working, but I do typically have something on hand to eat, so whatever I drink has to go well with food.

What’s an erotica writer to do? Our senses need indulging. It keeps us and our writing sharp.

Some of my favorite cocktails – the Crystal Light Midori Sour, for instance – fit the bill with no trouble. I just use a little more lemonade. The pineapples thaw out as I’m working, and I love having that nice little treat waiting for me at the end of the drink. But this month, for NaNoWriMo, I tend to lean toward wine. It’s good for marking the transition between “work” and work, and there’s a bit of a ritual involved in opening the bottle and pouring into my favorite glass.

For NaNo, I like to have two bottles of wine on hand. I was introduced to Genoli Blanco, a white rioja from 2010, at a tasting, and I fell for it pretty hard. I don’t typically care for white wine because it’s so sweet. But this is kind of a departure from white wines, I think. It’s not as full-bodied as a red, but it’s very complex. It’s lightweight and goes down so, so nicely when it’s cold.

As far as reds are concerned, I rarely turn down a shiraz. It’s bold and powerful, sometimes lacking in nuance. Like me. This month, I’ve made a switch to the 7 Deadly Zins. It’s a blend that manages real complexity without tasting like an identity crisis. Is it sweet or spicy? Is it fruity or smoky? Is it playful or mellow? Yes. Yes, it is. It also plays well with almost everything I eat during NaNoWriMo – slow cooker chili (JL Wilson’s recipe is my favorite), slow cooker chicken soup, and of course, deep dish pizza. I’d like to think all this is true of me, too, but I do tend to be my own biggest fan.

I celebrated my submission with a good friend and a bottle of Bordelet Poire Authentique. Wow. If it were at all feasible for me to drink that every day, I would totally sign up for that. I could definitely taste the pear, but its delicate undertones kept that from being overpowering. It made everything sing – from the paprika sausage to the buffalo cheese to the prosciutto. I may even go for another bottle once NaNoWriMo is over … or maybe I’ll stash one in here for the next special occasion.

I know some of you are Writing While Intoxicated. I don’t judge. Just tell me what you’re having!

Open Letter: You are not in the book. Sorry.

Neighbors:

You all are wonderful people. I know you’ve come here from various places, either through word of mouth (mine or someone else’s) or via various links from the rest of the Internet. I recognize that you took time – a truly nonrenewable resource – out of your life to come out to my blog and read whatever’s on my mind on Thursday. I’m really grateful for all of you for doing that.

Some of you are friends and colleagues, and I want to take a second to give you a little extra thank you. You’ve had my back and offered me your support and advice and comfort and all the things that good friends and colleagues offer each other. In return, I’ve generally given you very little. But you’ve been so patient with me, and I recognize that you could have written me off when I said or did whatever I said or did that would have caused a less patient person to write me off. I do try to be worthy of your friendship, and I admire and have genuine affection for you.

All of this makes it hard to say what I’m about to tell you. 

You are not in the book.

What do I mean? This book does not contain any character based on anyone I have ever met in the real world. That includes you. You may have some doubts as to whether you are in the real world, but I don’t.

You’re not in this book, the last book, or any of the books to come.

Some of you are not at all surprised to hear that you are not in the book. That’s good! You can hop on down to the comments and leave me a nice note, and I promise to be a better friend and colleague to all of you.

The rest of you are probably in one of these two groups: people who were hoping to be in the book, and people who were hoping to avoid being in the book. Let’s take the first group first.

I kind of feel like I’m disappointing you by saying that you’re not in the book if you want to be in it. But the fact of the matter is that I am not really making up any of the characters in the book. At some point, I get a weird intuitive flash, during which I see a part of the story. Then, as I’m letting my mind wander along the path revealed by the flash, I’ll get another flash, and then another, and then I’ve got most of the storyline. After that, I’m really just getting things organized and writing them down. I don’t exercise that much control over the story. It just shows up, fully populated, begging for attention. I don’t know anyone in the story. That’s what makes all of this so exciting.

Beyond that, I make it a point to keep real life away from my stories. I started writing many years ago (when we backed up our novels by copying them onto another scroll) to escape real life. Real life is a little easier to deal with these days – in fact, it’s pretty cool sometimes – but I do like to take a vaca in my characters’ fictional world every so often. It’s a nice place for a getaway. It’s close to the real world, but it is not the real world. Putting real people into the fictional world is like taking the BlackBerry on vacation. Sure, it’s not impossible to do. But if I can choose not to do it, I don’t do it – and I can choose not to do it.

This also means that I’m never in the story. I’m just the person hearing and seeing and telling the story. To beat our vacation metaphor to death, that’s the difference between vacationing at the resort and working at the resort. Never the twain shall meet. It’s not to punish you. It’s to protect the vacation.

And now to those of you who are hoping to avoid being in the book.

Some of you would just prefer not to be in an erotic romance novel, and you know what? That is totally cool! You don’t have to want it. We’re still good! Especially since you’re not in the book anyway. Hop on down to the comments and leave me a note.

On the other hand, I know some of you think I am going to punish you in some way by putting you into the book and then doing something unpleasant to you. I have heard of people threatening their enemies with such a thing. Please be assured that I would not do that to you. At the outset, I would refer you to my earlier points about how I don’t make up the characters or the story. Whatever unresolved personal issues you and I might have do not intersect with the story, since I don’t make up the story.

I’m also not going to use my powers as the writer to include you in the book for revenge – that’s going to mess up my vacation in the fictional world. I’m not going to spend my vacation thinking about unresolved personal issues. I’m trying to dodge the real world, which, again, includes you.

Finally, if you wronged me in a way that would inspire me to consider vengeance, immortalizing you in print – even if no one else ever sees it – does not serve that purpose. It just doesn’t make sense from a punitive standpoint. I either forgot about you altogether (because I don’t want that sort of energy in my life) or I passed you and your misdeeds along by word of mouth to all my friends and colleagues. I mentioned that they have offered me support, advice and comfort earlier.

I also suggested that other writers wouldn’t have a problem writing evildoers like you into their stories in order to exact vengeance against them. Sure, I won’t do it. But I can’t speak for other writers, and I talk to a lot of writers.

Is that not reassuring to you? Well, maybe you should look into the way you treat people. This isn’t about not mistreating writers for fear of ending up in the book. It’s about not mistreating people because what goes around comes around.

Today is the first day of National Novel Writing Month. I’m more excited than usual to be working on 50,000 words of erotic short stories in the next 30 days. Actually, I hope to be done by Thanksgiving, so I’ve got about 3 weeks.

Wow. That didn’t sound crazy until just now.

I don’t know what the rest of the month will bring. But I can be certain, as always, that none of you will make your way into the book, for good reasons or ill.

Leave me a comment anyway? Pretty please?

Photos from Romanticon 2012 — Day 1

Hey, neighbors!

I am at Romanticon 2012 this weekend, which I hope accounts for the lateness of this post. To make up for it, I have enclosed a couple of pictures. I will continue to post photos as long as there are things to photograph.

Here’s my supercool badge with a bottle of wine, which is one of our party favors:

And here’s your correspondent with Georgio. Georgio’s got a very, very handsome face, but I had to crop him out because my face is right next to his. Unfortunately, I work for people who would cause trouble for all of us if they knew this was what I did with my spare time. So I had to crop the picture, and we’re all paying the price.

(See, if I wrote erotica full time for a living, I could leave my face in. Just saying.)